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Fact Check

Debating candidates sometimes don’t get it quite right

Mitt Romney and President Obama debated in Denver on Wednesday night.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Mitt Romney and President Obama debated in Denver on Wednesday night.

Economy

President Obama:

“Governor Romney’s proposal that he’s been promoting for 18 months, calls for a $5 trillion tax cut. . . . When you add up all the loopholes and deductions that upper-income individuals are currently taking advantage of, you take those all away, you don’t come close to paying for $5 trillion in tax cuts. . . . And that’s why independent studies looking at this said the only way to meet Governor Romney’s pledge of not adding to the deficit is by burdening middle-class taxpayers more.”

Analysis: For a couple of months, Obama has based his critique of Romney’s tax plan — which seeks to lower individual tax rates by 20 percent and cut corporate rates — on a report by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, which concluded that “any revenue-neutral individual income tax change that incorporates the features Governor Romney has proposed would provide large tax cuts to high-income households, and increase the tax burdens on middle- and/or lower-income taxpayers.”

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Romney and his aides have ripped the study as “biased” and “a joke.”

“The study doesn’t take into account important aspects of Governor Romney’s plan, which will have a positive, pro-growth impact on the economy,” senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said on a conference call with reporters in August.

During the debate, Romney repeated promises not to raise taxes on the middle class or grow the deficit, but he kept his silence on which loopholes and deductions he would eliminate to achieve his goal. Some economists outside the Tax Policy Center, including Harvey S. Rosen at Princeton and Martin Feldstein at Harvard, have written that Romney could lower tax rates without adding to the deficit or harming the middle class, if he eliminates the right deductions.

Romney said on the eve of the debate that he would consider a cap on income tax deductions, an idea also floated by Obama. In an interview with a Denver Fox station, Romney suggested up to a $17,000 limit for families, potentially preventing wealthier families from sheltering more income.

Government

Mitt Romney:

“You put $90 billion into green jobs.”

Analysis: The number is roughly accurate but does not tell the whole story. Some of the green energy money was appropriated by President George W. Bush, not by Obama. Much of the money was spent on initiatives unrelated to new energy sources, like wind and solar.

Almost $30 billion went toward improving energy efficiency, including $5 billion for improvements in the homes and apartments of low-income households.

Another $10 billion was devoted to modernizing the electric grid. Millions of “smart meters” that read themselves have been installed on homes and businesses, eliminating the need for meter readers.

And $18 billion went to high-speed rail projects.

Economy

President Obama:

“Over the last 30 months, we’ve seen 5 million jobs in the private sector created.”

Analysis: The figure is roughly accurate, but it includes only private-sector jobs and omits an entire year of Obama’s presidency. In total, there are 261,000 fewer people on nonfarm payrolls today than there were when Obama took office.

Each candidate uses one standard to measure his own economic record and another to gauge his opponent’s. For Obama as president and Romney as governor of Massachusetts, the first year in office was the worst for job growth.

Obama leaves out the first year of his term when hailing the 4.5 million private-sector jobs that have been created on his watch but includes Romney’s first year when he says Massachusetts ranked 47th in job creation.

Romney said that during his governorship, Massachusetts went from losing jobs at the outset to creating jobs at the end and calls the improvement a turnaround. Obama also has gone from job losses to job gains during his four years in office, but Romney calls the improvement “the worst recovery since the Great Depression.”

Education

Mitt Romney:

“Well, first, I love great schools. Massachusetts, our schools are ranked number one of all 50 states.”

Analysis: In 2005, the third year of Romney’s tenure as Massachusetts governor, the state’s students ranked first or tied for first on all four National Assessment of Educational Progress, a congressionally mandated testing project. Massachusetts student performance improved in reading at grade 4 and in mathematics at both grades 4 and 8 from 2003, according to a 2005 report by state commissioner David P. Driscoll. That year, the percentage of fourth-grade students performing at the “proficient” and “advanced” levels rose to 49 percent, up from 41 percent in 2003, Romney’s first year in office. At the same time, the percentage of fourth graders performing below “basic” levels of understanding fell from 16 percent in 2003 to 9 percent in 2005.

The top ranking, however, came amid budget cuts enacted by Romney that affected education. Romney largely balanced the budget by cutting local aid to cities and towns, many of which responded by raising property taxes. In his first two years in office, Romney presided over a 15 percent cut in such aid; he also cut more than 4 percent of funding for local schools.

Health care

Mitt Romney:

“On Medicare, for current retirees, he’s cutting $716 billion from the program. Now he says by not overpaying hospitals and providers. Actually just going to them and saying, ‘We’re going to reduce the rates you get paid across the board; everybody’s going to get a lower rate.’ . . . We also have 50 percent of doctors who say they won’t take more Medicare patients.”

Analysis: The number is an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office of how much Medicare spending can be reduced between 2013 and 2022 by making health care more efficient for seniors. Romney calls it cuts, Obama calls it savings. The claim that half of doctors will stop taking Medicare patients comes from a widely circulated but small and informal poll. In an August article, Forbes cited a report by a local TV reporter in North Carolina who used volunteers posing as Medicare beneficiaries looking for a new doctor. The volunteers called 200 family physicians, and almost half said they were no longer accepting new Medicare patients.

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